My California Business is Being Sued for an ADA Violation. What are the Defenses?
ADA Basics: Statute and Regulations On July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and declared “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down”. The ADA is considered to be one of the most important civil rights laws to be enacted since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Simply stated the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. There are Five Titles of the ADA and they cover the following areas: ADA Title I: Employment ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities ADA Title II: Public Transportation ADA Title III: Public Accommodations ADA Title IV: Telecommunications Relay Services Other laws that were amended to accommodate the disabled include the Fair Housing Act Air Carrier Access Act Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act National Voter Registration Act Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Rehabilitation Act Architectural Barriers Act Defending an ADA Lawsuit The ADA makes it illegal for businesses to discriminate against disabled individuals. To prove a violation of the ADA, a plaintiff must prove only these three facts: 1. He/she must have a disability. (any disability, does not have to be wheelchair bound) 2. The business must be a place of public accommodation. 3. He/she must prove there was a denial of full and equal treatment because of the disability. (this is an important determining factor, but forcing the plaintiff to prove this can be very costly) A common example of an ADA lawsuit is a business being sued for discriminating against handicapped individuals because of “architectural barriers”. These barriers could prevent disabled people from enjoying the business as any other person. The ADA uses the Accessibility Guidelines to show a violation. The ADA must also show the removal of alleged architectural barriers can be “readily achieved”. A business can defend the ADA claim if it shows the removal of the barriers is not readily achievable. The reality for many businesses is certain barriers can be removed for a minimal cost. ADA plaintiffs will focus on these things and know the businesses will face a difficult argument. If a business is sued in an ADA lawsuit, it can either settle or defend. There will be rigorous investigations of the many factors that initiated the lawsuit. The cost of defending an ADA action is usually high because the cases are fact-intensive that require expert testimony, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys tend to be aggressive. In most of ADA cases, they know that attorney’s fees can be recovered if they prevail in the case. On the other hand, settling a case just to avoid payment of legal fees can make the business look to be naive, and invite more lawsuits. DO NOT WAIT TILL YOU ARE IN THIS PREDICAMENT.